DISCLAIMER: This essay was typed in a text editor (Notepad++) with spell-check.
People throughout the ages have considered the question of identity: “Who am I?” While people base their identities upon numerous different factors, nationality remains one of the most significant. Indeed, the society in which one finds oneself plays an undeniably gigantic role in shaping his core beliefs and values. However, mere membership in a culture or societal group cannot fully determine one’s identity; the individual must make certain decisions for himself.
In many cultures, people base their identities heavily upon simply being a member of that culture. The Jews provide an especially illuminating example. According to their religion, one is a member of God’s chosen people simply by virtue of being a Jew. Clearly, if a person considers himself to be chosen specifically by a powerful, loving God, his self-conception is altered drastically. Most especially, he is endowed with a supernatural significance which extends beyond that which any fellow man could give him. The Jew also places himself within a rich cultural narrative; he is one of those whom God freed from slavery and brought to the promised land. Undoubtedly, membership in the Jewish heritage has a profound effect on one’s identity.
However, one’s nationality is not nearly sufficient to determine his identity. Particularly, the identity “template” provided by the nation is incomplete. This is seen most easily by examining those countries with widely heterogeneous cultures. For example, despite a Christian majority, Americans hold widely varying religious views. Thus, different people can identify themselves as Americans while giving wildly different answers to core questions, such as the origin and significance of humanity. To return to the example of the Jews, an American Jew who views himself as endowed with divine significance simply cannot have the same self-conception as a irreligious nihilist person, who sees no meaning to life.
At this point, I think my original hypothesis has been largely confirmed: a black-and-white view on the subject is insufficient. My original question was “How important is it for humans to learn information which can be more effectively stored and accessed by other means?” In a certain sense, one can quite trivially establish that it is of extreme importance that humans learn at least some such information. Perhaps it would be most appropriate to discuss the propriety of memorization in each of several different areas.
The majority of my sources can be categorized as discussing the importance of memory in either education and general thought (mostly education) or personal life. Thus, perhaps I ought to split my paper along this line, discussing what sorts of things ought to be memorized and which oughtn’t for each of the areas in turn. Thinking back on my sources, I think my thesis could be something like “Although technology can be very useful in storing and retrieving information, memorization is important in many significant ways to humans, especially in the areas of education and personal life.”
So far, the topic of technology and memory seems to be panning out fairly well. The last post ended by asking which things are important to memorize. This source seems to speak rather particularly to this issue: “Of course, it’s a spectrum. We’ll always need to memorize information that would be too clumsy or time-consuming to look up daily: simple arithmetic, common spellings, the layout of our hometown. Without those, we won’t be of much use in our jobs, relationships or conversations.” That is, certain facts are critical to success in life, and some of them are of little use if they aren’t on instant recall. He argues elsewhere that certain things don’t need to be memorized, because “As society marches ever forward, we leave obsolete skills in our wake. That’s just part of progress.” Essentially, outsourcing memorization to technology allows humans to aspire to nobler, more impressive goals. This is an angle on the issue I haven’t yet used in the course of my research: even if memorizing things is in itself good for humans, the extra effort it involves might keep us doing more important things which would benefit mankind even further.
This source doesn’t by any stretch argue that memorizing is in itself bad, but rather that it is insufficient for learning. The example she cites in her third paragraph tells the story of a physics teacher whose students knew Newton’s third law, but struggled to actually apply it. Clearly, not memorizing the formula would not have been a better approach to fully understanding the law. Indeed, some of my other sources discuss how memorization is conducive to understanding. However, it does make an important point: learning requires more than simply memorizing. Thus, in some instances, one can see how memorization is not the most efficient route to conceptual knowledge; sometimes, it can be more efficient to simply understand the concepts themselves, referring to outside sources for particular information when required.
These two sources help to balance out my paper, arguing that memorization can be less critical than one might think.
Slight change of plans. OK, let’s face it: GIGANTIC change of plans. I now intend to write on memory and technology. More specifically, I want to discuss the importance of humans’ memorizing that which computers and other technologies can store more predictably and effectively. This will not likely result in a black-and-white answer. Particularly, the importance of humans’ memorizing a certain thing clearly depends on which thing is to be memorized. Hence, a more nuanced view must be pursued.
After doing some research into the area, I’ve found such a nuanced view to be justified. There was little disagreement that technology (mostly computers and books) could be extremely useful in the field of memory. However, most of the authors I read emphasize the importance of humans’ memorizing at least certain things. These authors can be split broadly into two groups: those who emphasize the importance of human memory for the sake of humans, and those who emphasize the importance of human memory for the sake of the things to be memorized (and hence for the sake of the humans). Thus, at root, the good of humans (or humanity at large) affects the importance of humans’ memorizing things. Clearly, it is important that humans memorize certain things. The next question, then, must be “Which things?”